Potential in retina treatment offered through stem cell research

September 30, 2010

A stem cell treatment to replace diseased parts of the retina is being pioneered by scientists funded by the Medical Research Council, the Macular Vision Research Foundation and Fight for Sight.

A stem cell treatment to replace diseased parts of the retina is being pioneered by scientists funded by the Medical Research Council, the Macular Vision Research Foundation and Fight for Sight. This could lead to a potential treatment for retinal diseases that affect around 3000 children in the UK.

Researchers from the UCL Institute of Child Health and UCL Institute of Ophthalmology as well as members of the UCL Centre for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine have successfully implanted cells from healthy mice into those with an inherited form of childhood blindness called Leber Congenital Amaurosis (LCA). The implanted cells, which release a gene, Crx, needed to make healthy cone and rod photoreceptors, integrated with the retina to become new cone photoreceptors. This is the first time this has been achieved. However, more studies are required to show if this method could restore sight.

"We have shown for the first time that it is possible to transplant new cone photoreceptors into the mature retina. The newly-developed cones looked as good as new," asserted Dr Jane Sowden, UCL Institute of Child Health, who led the study. "This is an important step forward as cone photoreceptors are essential for reading and colour vision and loss of this type of cell has the biggest impact on sight."

This study is available in Human Molecular Genetics.

For further information on stem cell technology read the upcoming October issue of Ophthalmology Times Europe for "A primer on the use of stem cells in ophthalmology" by Irving Arons.